When the woman who was sexually assaulted by Brock Turner released her statement from his trial to BuzzFeed, anti-feminist trolls thought twice about ripping another woman's honest testimony apart. Oftentimes, women face demoralizing insults from anonymous figures for speaking out against gender discrimination, supporting feminism, or commenting on rape culture. These trolls use their anonymity for the sole purpose of provoking brutal arguments. The Stanford rape survivor's letter, as well as the fact that it was read aloud on CNN, may have finally changed the way trolls respond to both sexual assault cases and feminism.
Opposition to rape culture is strongly connected to feminism, which opposes the gender-based norms that have helped to create it. Young men are expected to be dominant and strong, which inherently encourages them to be possessive, including of women. According to the same concept, women are encouraged to blame themselves for being objectified. Without feminist values, this problem will be difficult to fix. In an interview with BBC Trending, Emmett Rensin, who writes about anti-feminist internet trolling for Vox, explained that people have always targeted feminist ideas that go against the grain. Instead of shouting in the street and having to be accountable for their words, however, trolls have adapted to a platform that allows them to be harsher:
They think they're a nice enough person in ordinary life, maybe with frustration or anger that they think the internet is a safe outlet for. They think the internet is somewhere they can go and vent, and there's no real victim, the people aren't real, it doesn't really matter.
On Monday, Ashleigh Banfield, anchor of CNN's Legal View, humanized Turner's victim by reading her letter to the audience in its entirety. Ultimately, as CNN reported, some portions of the long letter had to be left out solely due to the show's time constraints. Still, Banfield's recitation of the woman's account was graphic, poignant, and heart-wrenching. In an interview with CNNMoney, the news anchor said that journalism's objective values rendered the raw, pointedly detailed broadcast completely appropriate:
This woman has perhaps superseded the work of every documentarian, the work of every politician, the work of every journalist, the work of any advocate who has tried to help people understand what is and what isn't consent. It was her. It was her words that drove me to realize that this needs to be published on a broader scale.
Banfield's powerful decision to expose viewers to this oftentimes stigmatized reality was a move in the right direction for all televised media. Bringing the survivor's untouched words to the national stage helped lend credence to a solidarity movement among sexual assault survivors, who should have been cushioned from devastating doubt long ago. Trolls love trying to refute people's opinions, but it isn't so easy to bully a victim when their deeply personal account has been broadcast nationwide.
It's difficult to believe that this didn't happen sooner in our "progressive" American society. As Jay Rosen, who teaches journalism courses at New York University, pointed out, this kind of stance has never been taken by a broadcast journalist until now.
The survivor's letter, as well as its circulation, ignited a nationwide movement against sexual assault and the way it's dismissed, especially on college campuses. Not only was it met with an immense influx of support, but it also stands as one of the only public testaments by a sexual assault survivor to remain relatively untouched by trolls. Only the future will tell whether this case has spurred a newfound respect for the legitimacy of feminist values on a broader scale.
Images: NBC (1)